Taking depositions the new-fashioned way

Issue August 2010 By Kenneth A. Zais

These days, it can be said that all depositions are local.

How can that be? After all, you and your associate are in Boston while the witness and opposing counsel are in Los Angeles. The expert you want on hand is in New York and the paralegal on the team is in the Atlanta office. You'll all have to go to Los Angeles to get this witness on the record. How is that local?

With the latest developments in court reporting technology, all parties in complex litigation can be present when the deposition starts, without boarding a plane. Everyone, including the court reporter and videographer - can be connected through Internet text and video streaming.

Turn on your computer. Open your browser. Log in securely. And you're there. You are all on the same screen, so to speak, across geographies and time zones. Every medium - text, audio, video - can be streamed, viewed and shared.

Internet text and video streaming is a progression of realtime reporting, whereby attorneys and legal team members follow the text of the deposition on their computers as the stenographer writes the testimony. Now, remote parties can attend online, saving travel costs and reducing time away from the office. As with any realtime deposition, a rough transcript can be made available for review until the final is produced and delivered.

Also, the video can be produced on DVD with synchronized text, the way you viewed it during the Internet video stream. When you play the video, each line of testimony scrolls as the witness speaks - capturing demeanor, body language and tone of voice. Furthermore, you can conduct text-based searches to zero in on crucial statements, then easily create video clips to import into trial presentation software.

Worldwide Discovery

The deposition in Los Angeles is of the defendant, who is executive producer of a media company. The similarities between the defendant's hit video game and your client's prototype are based on the same premise and too close to be merely coincidental. You need to establish who owns the rights.

Discovery in the case entails deposing witnesses throughout the country and in Europe. Depositions are scheduled in Boston, New York, Austin and London.

To keep costs manageable, depositions can be conducted over speaker phone. The downside is you can't observe demeanor and body language. Videoconference is another way to go, requiring lining up videoconferencing services in all locations. While multi-point videoconferencing is possible, it isn't always feasible. Cost can be a factor and traveling to the facility might be inconvenient if a site is not nearby.

Today, there are more options for matching the right technology to the circumstances.

Let's stipulate that for this key witness, you'll go to Los Angeles to take the deposition. The New York-based expert, who has vast experience in the video game business, can provide valuable insights based on her knowledge as to how games are developed, acquired and produced. But round-trip airfare plus hotel, transportation and meals will drive up costs.

Your paralegal has been on the case from the start and is indispensable when reviewing documents and catching contradictory testimony. That's another round-trip ticket. The associate working with you would like to go, but he is prepping for a trial and can't afford the time away.

Login: Attend Online

Instead, the associate, expert and paralegal can be at your side from their respective offices, through Internet text streaming, coupled with realtime. In addition, the associate will also be connected via teleconference to be able to ask questions. The expert and paralegal, however, will not be speaking and do not require teleconferencing. Rather, they will participate as observers to monitor testimony. They can highlight statements, make notes and send private messages to you and the associate, for example "page 92, line 7 contradicts earlier testimony  -  bring this up."

Streaming technology enables the court reporter and videographer to send text, audio and video from any location to the remote parties over the Internet. No special software is required. Participants only need a computer with a high-speed Internet connection and any popular browser, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome. User IDs and passwords are provided in advance to log in to the deposition.

PDF Transcripts, Documents always at Hand

As the case proceeds, final electronic transcripts are archived as PDF files - with searchable word index - in a secure online transcript repository. Exhibits can also be stored online. Because they are PDF files, they can be opened instantly with Acrobat Reader, stored in folders and printed (condensed or full) as needed.

This makes it easy to share with clients and legal team members without having to worry about compatibility issues. And, there is no need to scan and create PDF transcript files in-house. Individual logins are provided to counsel, paralegals and legal assistants to ensure secure access for all parties.

ASCII text transcript files are available online as well and can be imported into any litigation support software in use at your firm.

Finally, today it is not unusual for "green-minded" firms to order electronic files only - reducing consumption of paper and toner while saving shipping and storage costs. Once the files are uploaded to the repository, they are always available when you log in. You can locate transcripts and exhibits years later without searching through paper files.

Whether it's realtime, video, Internet streaming or videoconferencing for depositions locally, nationally or worldwide, court reporting is keeping pace with high-stakes litigation.

Kenneth A. Zais is president of O'Brien & Levine Court Reporting (www.court-reporting.com), headquartered in Boston and offering worldwide coverage. He is on the board of directors of the National Network of Reporting Companies (NNRC) and is an active member of the National Court Reporters Association, Massachusetts Court Reporters Association and the United States Court Reporters Association. He is a former director and current member of the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting.